JIS News

The House of Representatives began debating changes to the Holiday with Pay Act Tuesday (July 28), to increase fines for breaches by employers and allowing the Resident Magistrate’s (RM) Courts to hear the cases.
Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, pointed out that it is imperative that workers are given adequate time for rest and rejuvenation during their working life, to allow them to be more productive.
He said that the worker should also be remunerated at normal wages during this period of vacation, and be guaranteed the right to return to work thereafter. He added that similar principles should also apply to sick leave entitlements.
Pointing to what, he said, is a glaring deficiency in the Act, Mr. Charles said that there is no specific provision which allows an aggrieved worker to take legal action in the RM Court, against an employer for a breach of provisions which result in the worker not receiving legal entitlements to vacation leave, sick leave or gratuity benefits.
He said that between 2004 and 2008, an average of 2,400 workers annually lodged complaints with the Ministry regarding breaches of the Holiday with Pay Act. These complaints included: not being allowed to take their vacation and sick leaves at the appropriate time; not being paid at all for leave taken; and being underpaid for time taken.
“Fortunately, labour officers have been able to intervene in about one third of these cases, resulting in some workers receiving their entitlements outside of pursuing legal remedies. In the remaining cases, employers refuse to honour their obligation, or simply ignore the attempts by the Ministry to promote resolutions of these issues,” Mr. Charles said.
He stated that, although criminal action against employers is available, workers have no direct recourse in the courts, except to attempt to claim a breach of employment contract, which is a daunting task for the average worker.
A new section is to be included in the Act, to allow the RM Court to hear claims arising from breaches of contract of employment covering up to a maximum of $500,000. The Minister will also now be able to vary and amend fines, with the approval of Parliament.
“The worker will then be able to access relevant and effective justice, that would reflect the dynamism of the economy and the employment arena,” Mr. Charles remarked.
It is also proposed that fines be increased from $250 to $250,000 for breaches relating to: holiday with pay, sick leave or sick benefits; contractual arrangements; and records. However, the imprisonment penalty will be decreased from six months with hard labour to three months.
Amendments will also be made to the companion legislation, the Holiday with Pay Order. The order will clarify the meaning of ‘worker’, to relate to the changing face of the employment arena.
They will also include provisions to allow for the accumulation of vacation leave for up to four years, unless otherwise agreed between the worker and employer, and or their representatives. The order will also clarify the rate of pay to be used when calculating the sums owed to a terminated worker for outstanding vacation leave.
Debate on the Bill will continue in the House on Wednesday (July 29)

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